It’s a Big Question, and a Hard Answer

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

What advice would I give my teenage self? What advice would I give my pre-teen self? What advice would I give my young adult self?

It’s all the same question, in a sense.

Maybe not to most people, but it is to me. I didn’t have a good early life. No helpful adults, a lot of siblings and not enough food or clothing, let alone hope for better.

My teenage self did well, although it was a struggle. I learned to be independent, tough, bloody-minded. Not stubborn, or bull-headed, but definitely with the head-butt of a big buck goat. You had to be like that to survive so many siblings. Everything had value and the quick and smart got a better option than the ones who took too much time or emotion.

She did well enough to learn the stick-to-it-ness of a future tough life.

My pre-teen self didn’t do as well, but learned to use a mask to become both invisible and unthreatening. The big lesson was a cruel one, and I still find myself falling back on it when first meeting people. What is it? It’s embarrassing now, but would I do it again, if I had a chance to go back in time and whisper in her ear?

Yes, I would. I’d make sure she knew that if you behaved and spoke like someone who wasn’t smart enough to be a threat, then people left you alone. They still do. Let them have their bit of power – but never forget what they did to ensure their superiority.

Power-plays and manipulation are not my game. A good memory is – I never forget. Never.

And my young adult self – what advice would I offer her?

That’s sad. I’d probably ask her not to take on the foster kids from such a young age. It’s a tough job, and it broke the sense of self on a few occasions (which was brought back by the fosters, so a bit of a seesaw lifestyle choice). How old? Not old enough to vote, and not old enough to drive (she did, but don’t tell anyone). I can’t say that the experience of fostering wasn’t a good builder of character – it certainly was. But does life have to be that tough – for me or them?

Why would I ask her to give it up?

Because it wouldn’t have taken so long to get those magical bits of paper to prove a value to the world. I know, I know. People will say that it means nothing, but when you have nothing already and you go for a job and they ask for those things without making any mention of experience or skills or intelligence, then you know it matters. It means something to those who advertise jobs that pay better than unskilled labour.

I did a lot of that. Brickies labourer, market stalls (of many varieties), driving a sewage truck (the pay isn’t enough unless you have no sense of smell, which, luckily, I don’t). Driving a taxi at night, office cleaning, lots of jobs like that so I could pay my way through a variety of courses to get the first bit of paper.

After the first bit, it got easier to get into those places. They knew you had that stick-to-it attitude. That thing I learned as a teenager after I’d learned to present an unthreatening facade. That’s how I got through the young adult (and some of the adult) stage. I met a lot of people in the same situation, and we supported each other where and when we could. It’s part of the deal of sticking to ‘it’, including those who understand what it means to get over or through another obstacle.

It’s also how I got through some really tough moments in my life. Bushfires when I lost everything except the clothes I’d worn to work. Twice. Losses of close friends. Losses of foster kids. Losses of money and reputation.

The worst? My daughter. The pain of that loss will never go, but no one will ever see it on the outside. The lesson from never showing the true self comes to the fore.

I think I needed that early life and its tough lessons to enable me to get through what was to come.

C’est la vie. Or should that be la vie en rose (thorned, of course)?

What advice would I give? Stick to it, kid!

11 thoughts on “It’s a Big Question, and a Hard Answer

  1. I complain about my mother’s perfectly logical attempts to mold me into a young woman satisfactory to Mexico’s middle-class values in the 1960s – because they were so not me – until I remember how much harder it can be, and is for so many people.

    My ‘struggles’ seemed epic, but I was supported and loved and definitely molded – a process which has given me much material for fiction – but what you describe was orders of magnitude worse – and you still made good and helpful choices. I’m so impressed, even as I wish I could take away some of the lingering pain you talk about. I don’t know if I could have done what you did. And I can’t imagine losing one of my daughters, or my son. I’m so sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. My early life forged me into the ‘sarge’ that my fosters named me. Today, I’m toughened steel, or something similar. And all those issues give me lots of storytelling fodder, so there’s the value.
      My daughter, my one and only child … that’s a pain I’ll carry forever, willingly, as that pain is all I have to remind me that she existed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the grief. I miscarried at 5 weeks, but never really knew I was pregnant until it was all over. I was 40.
    Being a foster carer of teenagers in those years previous taught me a lot, made me appreciate what I had, and widened my knowledge of how the other half lived. It brought out the best in me and I would not change those years for anything, even when everything went sour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thanks. I’m sure there are a lot of people in the same boat, but it’s an unmentionable, especially when it’s a child.
      The fostering was a nightmare, a a tough gig, but worthwhile. I didn’t think about it at the time – the first was my nephew, so no choice. We do what we can with what we have and keep moving forward one step at a time.


  3. I think everyone muses on what advice they’d give their younger selves – essentially it’s the question ‘what would you change if you could go back and live your life again?’ And the answer to that has to be nothing, because there’s a good chance that along with some of the bad things that happened, you might not get the good things, which often happen for the most unpredictable reasons.

    And it’s the tough knocks that build you up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post made me thankful for every over-protected moment of my early life. My parents set me apart from other Aussie kids, but they also taught me to value my mind and to have the courage of my convictions.
    I’m also thankful that my one-and-only Offspring is still with me. I have a lot to be thankful for.
    -massive hugs-

    Liked by 1 person

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